As a kid, every summer we would go to one of those kitschy family campgrounds that seem to be stuck in the 60s with their resort themes of ‘Frontier Town’ or ‘Buccaneer Island’. Lined with fake storefronts and garish fiberglass statues of cartooned camp mascots, I typically sighed in resignation the moment we drove under the welcome arch. Regularly popping up along east coast highways within 60 miles of any given beach, you’d always be left feeling like you didn’t quite make it. After driving for two and a half days, what’s another hour for god’s sake? Instead, a mysterious hint of salt air would sting my nose as I climbed the peeling wood stairs to the platform overlooking the ‘rapids’ which was really just a lazy river packed with faded yellow inner tubes. Then I’d slip down a painfully jarring water slide that hadn’t been repainted in 15 years; dumping out into a kidney-shaped pool so loaded with chlorine that I inevitably came up gagging. Lather, rinse and repeat.
My mom and dad loved the familiar chatter of the other parents in neighboring tents and RVs, making conversation and engineering group meals around the campfire in hopes of getting the kids to connect and become lifelong friends. In reality, we all just sat there with our faces in hand, rolling our eyes at each other and zoning out in the warmth of the flames. Each of us silently hoped that the menacing faces of boomtown cowboys and cackling pirates wouldn’t make an appearance in our nightmares.
This isn’t too far of a stretch considering that the damn things came to life in broad daylight. I was six years old the first time three different Pedros of epic proportions stepped from their cultural insensitivity stations and leaned down to inspect my t-shirt of an orange dinosaur wearing a snazzy green sombrero. The open-mouthed smiles frozen under their El Bandito mustaches scared the piss out of me. I never again wore the requisite souvenir t-shirts that my parents insisted on buying for the family. I also refused to return to South of the Border, opting to scream for 10 minutes straight until my parents agreed that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. Obviously, I had developed some strange aversion to that particular park.
Most of these camp representatives were friendly enough, bearing a curiosity that I came to accept as standard fare. Often they just wanted to understand the appeal in the cartooned tributes of their historical homes. On the surface, there didn’t seem to be any hostility or recognition of the general indifference displayed towards the heritage they stereotypically depicted. But every now and then an angry mascot would come running down the dirt path with a raised tomahawk or ukulele, sending every kid on the trail diving for cover. No one wanted to be a Mikey, the poor schmuck who got bludgeoned to death by an irate Yogi Bear in the 70s. Should’ve given him the damn picnic basket, I say.
So it wasn’t exactly surprising when a Davey Crockett lookalike came barreling through the campground with a 12-foot fiberglass rifle and a powder horn longer than my arm. His badly painted features of bushy brows and perfectly round eyes gave him a perpetual look of surprise, even as he jammed the butt of the rifle into carefully parked RVs, smashing windows and denting canopy bars. Red and white checker-clothed picnic tables were upended and folding chairs dismembered. All the while yappy little mutts cowered behind deflated tires.
Hiding together behind a fallen tree nearby, my little brother tugged at my sleeve and pointed at the kid frozen in terror not 20 feet from the rampaging mascot. “What about him?” He whispered.
I watched the crotch of the boy’s khaki shorts bloom wetly as the berserker turned in his direction; the tail of his cap swinging violently. “Ah, hell,” I muttered.
I dug my nails into the damp bark and popped up, hopping over the trunk before I ran into the clearing. Waving my arms wildly and yelling like a banshee I screamed at the kid to run. He stared at me in wide-eyed stupidity, refusing to move. Then I was skidding face-first across the dirt, the laces of my chucks trailing behind me. To my horror, the dust cleared just in time to see the rifle stock connect with the boy’s chin. With an audible crack and a synchronized dance of motion, his head snapped back and his body flew up and into the RV cab behind him before falling unnaturally still.
Abruptly calm, the mascot strolled over to the wrecked vehicle and peered down into the cab. Poking a shoeless foot hanging half out the window, he received no response. With a shrug, he pulled the coonskin cap off his head, wildly waving it in the air and shouted, “King of the wild frontier!” He then turned and ambled off to his perch at the ‘saloon’ with his rifle slung across his shoulders.
We all gathered together around the destroyed space and eyed each other warily. A small, pig-tailed girl wailed over a crushed pink bike, and another young boy sniffled at the tennis shoe hanging off a broken side mirror. Whoever the hell got to explain this one to the parents was an unlucky son of a bitch. But there was an air of guilt-ridden excitement as we began cleaning up the campground. It was practically a guarantee that the next year we’d all be going to the beach.
© 2015 Taryn King All Rights Reserved